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Lighten your pack for free

So you have decided to go wild camping for a night, or backpacking for a few nights, you pack everything you think you need and then pick up your bag…… and groan at the 25 kg weight.

Does this sound familiar? Does the idea of backpacking with children in tow sound like even heavier packs? Well, it doesn’t have to! Our rucksacks typically weigh less than 10 kg each (for me and Stacey) for a two-night walk and camp trip, including water, food and a child carrier.

Many people think that going lightweight means taking more risk, or being less comfortable or spending big money, but it doesn’t have to be any of those things. In fact, by reducing your pack weight you are often safer as less likely to fall and more comfortable as you aren’t getting back ache from a heavy pack. In terms of cost, many of the weight saving tips are cheap or free, and it is only near the end of the process that investing in lightweight sleeping systems and tents becomes worthwhile.

My number one top tip would be to embrace the scales. Weighing everything might sound nerdish, but it is really helpful to see where your total pack weight is coming from. This then helps you prioritise what to change first, and can be useful in deciding whether spending money to save some weight is worth it.

Here in the first of our series of backpacking tips are our favourites for making your packs lighter and spend no money. It’s a winner:

Less water: If you embrace collecting water along the way you can save yourself kilograms of pack weight for free. In many parts of the UK, water from fast flowing streams is fine to drink. Being ultra-cautious, we always treat our water using chlorine tablets, which are really cheap too. We normally carry 1l of water per person max and re-fill along the way unless we know there are going to be issues collecting water during our trip.

Take less stuff: Do you get out of your car and put your keys (including your office keys, garage keys etc) and your wallet (including loads of small coins and old receipts) and phone into your bag, suddenly adding 0.75 kg? Try taking only what you need and let go of some of the extra baggage – just your car and house key, a credit card and a couple of notes, and only tech if you need it. I know, I know, we won’t find our house or any shops out on the mountains, but we think it’s worth taking them just in case something goes amiss to our car while we’re away, then we’ve still got enough to get us by. There are big savings to be had by taking less stuff!

Lighter food: If you are not taking dehydrated food, you are carrying a lot more weight than you need. We get a day’s food for two adults and our son to be typically 1.6 kg. There are fancy specific backpacking options such as wayfarer meals, but their cost makes our eyes water. Instead we use things like pasta, cous cous, beanfeast (or equivalent), noodles, stuffing, porridge, sandwich thins and primula cheese.

Less clothes: Think about what you REALLY need. For most of the year, except when sub-zero temperatures are forecast, we normally take a set of thermals each for night time, a pair of clean socks and underwear and a single spare fleece (or light down jacket) as well as hats and gloves. Seriously, wearing the same clothes for more than one day is fine… so long as you don’t go to a posh café at the end (then you might get some odd looks!)

No spare shoes: For a single night trip or two nights, loosening your boots right off in the evening is often as effective as changing shoes. There is normally quite a weight saving by not taking spares.

Lighter clothes: One for the scales here! So you have a choice of fleece jumper and which one do you take? The green one (if green is your thing) or the lightest one… the choice is yours!

No extra fuel: It’s easy to take days worth of extra meals ‘just in case’. We usually take just one spare meal for us all. Our thinking is that beyond maybe being a meal later than planned (half a day or an overnight) you are really not going to need extra fuel (or food) because if you do something really bad has happened and you will be getting help anyway, so why take loads of extra?

No spare pegs/tent footprint/extra guy lines: Another just in case one. There is no need to use a footprint when backpacking. Your tent should be plenty waterproof and a couple of minutes checking there are no sharp objects will mean you will not get rips in your tent floor. The same goes for extra pegs and guy lines. The only tent spare we carry is an emergency pole sleeve, as a broken pole makes a tent unusable rather than uncomfortable.

Single pan: Do you take a pan set? If so, consider only taking the smallest pan. We use a single 900 ml pan for all our cooking and drink making for the three of us. It slows meals down a bit, but you still have hot food, and less pack weight!

Hopefully you’ll have found some of these tips helpful for lightening your load. If you already go lightweight, what are your favourite tips you’d like to share? Let us know!

2 responses to “Lighten your pack for free”

  1. Some great tips in your article.
    I am now in my 3rd year as a hiker/camper/fly fisherman making several trips each spring/summer in a very remote part of nw scotland.
    My first trip was with a 40+ lb 120 litre backpack and almost every mistake that you highlight.
    For my second trip I had drastically cut down on weight and bulk and camped near a water supply /used dehydrated food etc.
    For next year I will be carrying even less thanks to your advice.


    1. NW Scotland, our favourite place 🙂 Our first trips away were nightmarish too but we got there over the years. Glad you found our tips helpful – Let us know how you get on next year and if you come across any other tips.


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